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EU Destroys 700,000 Hectares of Rainforest for Biofuels

Rainforest Rescue

The EU wants to save our climate with supposedly green biofuels and has deemed palm oil “sustainable”. Yet on the other side of the globe, rainforests are being clear-cut to produce the 1.9 million tons of palm oil that end up in European fuel tanks every year.

The biofuels policy of the EU is destroying rainforests (© Composer/Fotolia + Shebalso/Flickr – Montage: Rettet den Regenwald)

The European Union wants to protect the climate and reduce carbon emissions from motor vehicles by blending fuels with increasing shares of supposedly eco-friendly “biofuels”.

Last year, 1.9 million tons of palm oil were added to diesel fuel in the EU – in addition to millions of tons of equally harmful rapeseed and soybean oils.

The plantations needed to satisfy Europes’s demand for palm oil cover an area of 700,000 hectares – land that until recently was still rainforest and the habitat of 5,000 endangered orangutans.Despite the clear-cutting, the EU has classified palm oil as sustainably produced.

This policy has now blown up in the legislators’ faces, with scientists confirming what environmentalists and development experts have long asserted: biofuels help neither people nor the environment – and they are most certainly not climate-neutral, as even studies commissioned by the EU show. Biodiesel from palm and soybean oil, but also from European-grown rapeseed, has a larger carbon footprint than diesel from fossil sources.

The EU must scrap its biofuels policy immediately, but the agri-industry is fighting hard to maintain the status quo. Not surprising, when one considers that biofuels are currently subsidized to the tune of 10 billion euros in the EU alone.

Decision making in the European Union is a long process and involves many different actors that bring in studies, reports, arguments, and numbers. Hundreds of industry lobbyists seek to influence this process and they are trying hard to protect their financial interests. Next, the European Parliament and its committees along with the Council of the European Union will need to agree on a compromise based on the proposal published in October 2012.


Every year, 14 million tons of so-called biofuels are blended with gasoline and diesel in the EU. This is slated to increase to 30 million tons by 2020, enough to replace ten percent of the fossil fuel share. Ever-increasing quantities of biofuels, or resources such as palm and soybean oil required for their production, are being imported from overseas. In South America, rainforests and savannas are being burned to make way for the cultivation of sugarcane for ethanol and soy monocultures for biodiesel.

In Southeast Asia, rainforests are being felled, above all for palm oil plantations. With a market share of nearly 90 percent, Malaysia and Indonesia are the two largest palm oil producers – and are also responsible for the most extensive destruction of rainforest. The horrific consequences of the EU biofuels can be seen in Malaysia and elsewhere. On Borneo, the state-owned Yayasan Sabah Group is clearing 70,000 hectares of rainforest to make room for oil palms.14 of Borneo’s endangered pygmy elephants were poisoned there because they inconvenienced the plantation companies.

These plantations are certified by the “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)”. The palm oil they produce is thus classified as “sustainable” by the EU and can be added to biodiesel. Six million tons of palm oil, by far the cheapest vegetable oil, are flowing onto the European market annually.

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